Sunday, April 26, 2009

Mayor's Top 5: Newtown Eyesores

Semi-abandoned property adjoining Newtown Station

Newtown is probably more famous for its cultural attractions than its physical landscape, yet part of its charm is consistency of the mainly Victorian period architecture, including both the ubiquitous terrace houses as well as the shopping precinct of King St, which has been described as "perhaps Sydney's largest and best example of 19th Century commercial architecture" and is listed on the Register of the National Estate.

However Newtown is not quite as harmonious architecturally as it could be, and at a certain point in time certain of my predecessors in council have taken their eye of the ball (possibly assisted by wads of something subtly placed in their pockets) and allowed the construction of what can only be described as architectural shockers to be built in the area.

In this first in a planned series of Top Fives, the Mayor of Newtown presents ... Newtown's Top Five Eyesores !

#5 Newtown Police Station

Somewhere in the world there is someone who will defend this as a wonderful example of Brutalism. That someone is not me; this ugly 70s monstrosity issues a giant up yours to its surrounding Heritage Listed examples of 19th Century civic architecture. Prince Charles is famous as a critic of Brutalism, having famously said of a London example: "You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe - when it knocked down our buildings, it didn't replace them with anything more offensive than rubble." While the mayor is a little more open to the charms of Brutalism in the right context, the Newtown Civic area is not it.

#4 Brown Street Apartments

This multi-dwelling apartment block is the only residential building to make the mayor's list of shame, despite some fairly serious competition from some of the recent additions to North King Street (you know who I'm talking about, Georgina apartments).

Like the Police Station above the main crime of this building is the sheer inappropriateness of the building's location. Dense mutli-living dwellings like this have their place - and this building would not look out of place in Mona Vale, for example. Yet I struggle to think who could approve the construction of a building like this next door to historic Newtown Library.

#3 Newtown Professional Centre

I don't think this one needs any words.

#2 The Dendy

Those whose only experience of Newtown is King Street could be forgiven for being surprised at this choice; at the street front the Dendy in someways epitomises what many people like about Newtown; a cool cafe, an indie cinema, record shop and book shop all in the same open complex.

Come around the back though, and things aren't so rosy. In fact the Dendy deserves two entries in this list - not only does it present a particularly squat arse to Camperdown Memorial Park (home to the Newtown Festival):

but recent renovations managed to add an even more offensive and out of place side profile to Mary Street, the split into two equally repellent lumps totally mocking the neighbouring Emily Terraces.

This development was the subject of a dispute between Marrickville council and the developers - apparently the council had imposed conditions on the developers that somehow they felt they could ignore. Does anyone have the latest on this ? The SMH article is no longer on-line.

This eyesore has been a reason for the mayor to boycott the Dendy cinema since the redevelopment.

#1 Telstra Exchange

The winner by a nose however is Newtown's Telstra exchange, located on an L-shaped property stretching from Mary Street (opposite the ugliness of the Dendy) to King Street (the carpark forms the wall of the 'I Have a Dream' mini-plaza).

This building would be ugly and out of place in almost any suburb in Australia (if not the world), but once again, particular offence is created here due to the location of the exchange, looming threateningly over the delightful 1885 Church Avenue terraces (above) and other adjoining terraces (below).

It's a relic of the time when Telstra was Telecom Australia, a federal agency that had no legal obligation to comply with local council regulations. The exchange on Oxford Street Paddington is another classic example. These days even councils have to comply with their own rules for their own developments which is a much improved situation.

There's an interesting picture from January 1980 of King Street during the construction of the exchange here; thanks to the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts for permission to reproduce the web-sized version of their photo on this blog. I can recommend snooping around their site and learning more about the Heritage rules and how they apply, as well as for some cool old photos.

Copyright DEWHA. Photographer Charlton K

Here's what it looks like today, you can just see the exchange car park walls behind the trees.

Have I forgotten anything ? Are there any other eyesores that deserve to make this list ? Have I been too harsh on some of the buildings above. Comments please !


  1. How about the block of flats which house the Satellite Cafe on the corner of Brown and Wilson Streets? More Brutalism as form follows function.

  2. Can you please do something about The Hub - empty for at least 20 years, empty for so long everyone's forgotten what it was or what went down there. But it could be an actual, um, hub. Sad.

  3. Before it had a stint as a porno cinema, the Hub was once a thriving dance spot, many years ago. As you say, Anonymous, it is a shamefully wasted opportunity today.

  4. There's been a proposal recently lodged with Marrickville Council to turn the Hub into shops.

  5. @Matthew - another shocker. I wonder how much a render make-over (such as Newtown Plaza just received) would hide the worst of its sins. Those green awnings just have to go though. You'll be pleased to know that Satellite is in safe hands after a recent change in ownership.

    Re the Hub, it is the great shame of Newtown. I did a quick scan of the Marrickville DA list without seeing that - Anonymous#2, feel free to drop me a mail with any more details you might have !

  6. Re The Hub: Got an idea? It's yours for a negotiable monthly fee.

  7. Speaking of Satellite, do we know where the previous people went? The new lot have not figured out how to make the most of their non existent kitchen...

  8. Danielle - the previous owners have 'retired' from the cafe business but are mates of the new owners.

    As a regular of Satellite I actually reckon they new owners are doing a great job and have sorted out some of the previous issues.

    Maybe give them another try - or have a chat to Eddie the manager - she's very friendly !

  9. what about that bloody awful apartment building at 31 station street, behind newtown rsl? i think i read somewhere they knocked down a nice old building, and probably drowned a bunch of kittens in the process of building it. take a look at google maps...

  10. Anyone have any heritage information on the Trocadero? Would help greatly in the creation of a its Heritage interpretation.

    Regards Luke

    email lukebubb at gmail dot com

  11. Can't argue against this list. Thec council, Telstra or the arts council should commssion two giant murals to cover the north facing walls of both the exchange and the Dendy. Just like they do in Berlin where they have fantastic large scale murals.

  12. re: what about that bloody awful apartment building at 31 station street, behind newtown rsl?

    I heard anecdotally that is was housing commission, which would explain a lot. Dunno if that's true though.

  13. does anyone have any heritage information on the hub building?? I know parts of it is heritage listed but i would like to get more details. I just don't know where and how to get the infos. Please let me know if anyone knows anything

  14. 31 station street is the scum of newtown

  15. Urghhh... I live on Station Street and 31 is just truly revolting. I would hate very much to see the shit that must go on in that building.

    I'm sure there's some lovely folk who live in there who find themselves in not the greatest circumstances, but holy crap, there are some wonderous and revolting beings who inhabit it. You usually see them congregating at the letterboxes below and I get various characters who frequently come down Station Street and enlighten me with their 'ahem', charming conversations (usually punctuated with "fuck" as every second word).

  16. I agree no 31 is scary!

    Mary Reiby (on the $20 note) used to have a house at no 31 where she lived when she retired, hence Reiby St, Reiby lane and Reiby Hall where the RSL now is next door. See photos of the original building at and an earlier picture

    this site has some interesting history info:

  17. I disagree about the Georgina Apartments - i think that building is kinda cool, in a warehouse charming sorta way. Alpha house is far more ugly.

  18. I lived in Alpha House for several years, & I love the place. I was lucky to have an apartment in the orginal 1914 (?) part of the building. Love the history of the place. Did you know that Sydney Uni maths dep't apparently had Australia's first computer in part of it back in the early 60s? I agree the new part of the building is crap, but not hugely ugly.
    Georgina deserves it's manky reputation, not for its outside, but for its poky, badly designed apartments, & the nasty smell that seems to hang around the corridors. Would love to know what it was before the apartment building conversion.

  19. A lot of the newer buildings in Newtown are hideous. It didn't take long for that apartment block that sits on Missenden Rd (between King and Carillion) to look like a slum. These damn designers have no thought of what their materials become when left out in the rain... The top half looks like it's being penetrated by another building. Yeh, postmodern alright, but still bloody awful. Somehow i think if people hung washing out to dry on their balconies it might add some honesty to it.

  20. Does any one know what is going on with the HUB now?